Loch Vennachar

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Loch Vennachar
Career Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: Loch Vennachar
Builder: Thomson's on the Clyde
Launched: August 1875
In service: 1875
Out of service: September 1905
Fate: Wrecked September 1905
Status: Registered historic site
General characteristics
Class and type: Clipper
Tonnage: 1,485 tons
Length: 250 ft 1 in (76.23 m)
Beam: 38 ft 3 in (11.66 m)
Depth of hold: 22 ft 4 in (6.81 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Sail plan: Clipper

Loch Vennachar was a three-masted iron sailing ship (clipper) that operated between Great Britain and Australia between the late 1800s and 1905. The name was drawn from Loch Venachar, a lake which lies to the south-west of the burgh of Callander, in the Stirling region of Scotland. It is understood to mean "most beautiful lady" in Scottish Gaelic.[1]

In September 1905, she sank without trace and with all hands. In 1976, her extensively damaged remains were discovered in approximately 20 meters of water in West Bay, Kangaroo Island by the Society for Underwater Historical Research.[2][3]

History and description

Loch Vennachar was built in 1875 by Thomson's on the Clyde for the Glasgow Shipping Company. She was one of a fleet of iron wool clippers of the well-known Loch Line.[4] Her registered tonnage and dimensions were: 1,552 tons gross, 1,485 tons net; length, 250 feet 1 inch; breadth, 38 feet 3 inches; depth of hold, 22 feet 4 inches. Her usual cargo was usually about 5,500 bales of wool. She was first rigged with fidded royal masts, but this proved to interfere with her stability as there was too much weight aloft. She was then given topgallant and royal masts in one with crossed royal yards over double-topgallants. Loch Vennachar was always in the wool trade to Adelaide and Melbourne, but when an out wool clipper, she also carried passengers[5] and other cargo.[6]

On her maiden voyage, she was commanded by Captain Wagstaff, leaving Inishtrahull on 6 September 1875. In early 1876, Wagstaff was replaced by Captain Robertson, who died in 1878 after only making two voyages on the vessel. The command was then given to her first officer, J.S. Ozanne, but in 1884, Captain Ozanne handed over command to Captain W.H. Bennett. Following Bennett's retirement in 1904[7], Captain W.S. Hawkins took command until her final voyage in 1905.[8]

File:Loch Vennachar 3.jpg
Loch Vennachar arriving at Port Louis after cyclone damage

Loch Vennachar was considered an unlucky ship narrowly surviving a cyclone in the Indian Ocean in June 1892.[9] Around 8 pm on the evening of 3 June, the barometer began to fall ominously and the sail was promptly shortened. At approximately 5.00 am as darkness lifted it showed terrific head seas that swept down upon the vessel, lashed by the North-East gale. Two large waves approached the ship. Loch Vennachar rode the first wave and sank into the trough at the other side. While in this position, the second wave came on and broke on deck with such force that it broke the foremast, mainmast and the mizzen topmast. Without her masts to steady her, the Loch Vennachar rolled dangerously in heavy seas. After 9 days, the weather eased and the crew were able to rig a spar forward and sail on the damaged mizzen. After 5 weeks of sailing, she arrived at Port Louis, Mauritius. Although her stay lasted 5 months while new spars were sent from England, repairs only took 10 days to complete.[6][8] Captain Bennett was awarded the Lloyd's Medal for his leadership and bravery at sea.[10]

Loch Vennachar suffered another serious accident on 12 November 1901, after a collision with the SS Cato, in the Thames Estuary. After arriving in the Thames, she anchored off the Mucking Light. Just before dawn, she was cut down and holed on the starboard bow by Cato, with one hand being seriously injured. She rapidly sank in 40 feet of water, but all hands, along with the parrot and cat, got clear safely[11]. She rested on the bottom of the Thames for a month before being raised and repaired at considerable cost[12], and again put back into service in the Adelaide and Melbourne trade.[6][13][14][15]

Despite her unlucky reputation, she sailed between Great Britain and Australia for 30 years without further incident, until her final voyage.[16]

Final voyage

Captain W. Hawkins and Chief Officer James Priest
File:Loch Vennachar Crew.jpg
From left: D.S.M. Thompson, T. Pearce (apprentice) and J. Hadley

Under the command of Captain W.S. Hawkins, Loch Vennachar departed Glasgow in late June 1905 on a routine voyage to Adelaide. She was carrying a crew of 26 (some reports say 27) and laden with general cargo and a consignment of 20,000 bricks. On 6 September 1905, Loch Vennachar was overtaken by SS Yongala about 160 miles west of Neptune Island and the captains exchanged "all's well" signals.[17] The Captain of the Yongala recorded that Loch Vennachar presented a pretty sight with her sails in full standing, she sped along with every apparent prospect of reaching her port safely.[18] It was the last known sighting of Loch Vennachar.

On 29 September, the ketch Annie Watt arrived in Adelaide and her captain reported picking up a reel of blue printing paper 18 miles North-West of Kangaroo Island. The paper was identified as part of Loch Vennachar's cargo.[10][19] Three weeks later, the sea began delivering scraps of her cargo to the jagged coast of Kangaroo Island which confirmed the disaster. The steamer Governor Musgrave was sent on two separate occasions to search for the wreck and any survivors. Weeks of searching by government and local fishing boats produced only flotsam and the body of a young seaman, who was never identified. He was buried in the sand hills of West Bay.[18] The search was eventually abandoned on 12 October.[4] Divers eventually discovered the wreck at West Bay, Kangaroo Island in 1976.[20]

The hero of the Loch Ard disaster, Tom Pearce, lost one of his sons when the Loch Vennachar was wrecked.[9][10][21]

At the time, it was incorrectly concluded that Loch Vennachar was wrecked on Young Rocks, a granite outcrop about 20 miles S.S.W. of Cape Gantheaume, trying to make the Backstairs Passage.[10]

Present day

File:Loch Vennachar 2.jpg
Loch Vennachar last sighted by SS Yongala

Vennachar Point, located on the extreme west coast of Kangaroo Island, was named after the ship. Loch Vennachar Historic Reserve was also named after the ship. The reserve, including the shipwreck, is a registered historic site (place ID #7455) under the National Estate.[22]

The grave and wooden cross (made from the wreckage) of the unidentified seaman can still be seen to this day at Vennachar Point.[23]

Loch Vennachar's official location is defined as the area of seabed enclosed by a circle of radius 250m, centred at latitude 35deg 53` 05" south and longitude 136deg 32` East.

In 1980, the bower anchor was raised and put on display in the Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island.[24]

See also


  1. De Quincey, T., & Groves, D. (2000). Articles from the Edinburgh Evening Post, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and the Edinburgh Literary Gazette 1826 - 1829. London: Pickering and Chatto. OCLC: 174783948.
  2. Christopher, Peter (1990). South Australian shipwrecks, 1802-1989. Society for Underwater Historical Research. North Adelaide, SA. ISBN 0958800618. OCLC: 25914190.
  3. Council for Nautical Archaeology (1979). International journal of nautical archaeology and underwater exploration. London; Volume 8 Issue 2 Page 169-178, May 1979. ISSN: 0305-7445. OCLC: 1037043.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2003). Shipwrecks: Loch Vennachar. Retrieved online 22 March 2008.
  5. "In the year 1896 I left Glasgow in the Loch Vennachar for Melbourne, and had a wonderful run. Captain Bennett, who was a fine sailor, was in command, and taking the time from when we passed Ailsa Craig, in the Firth of Clyde, to Kangaroo Island, just outside Adelaide, we did the journey in 81 days. When we were "running our Easting down" in the Southern Ocean we on one occasion averaged 15 knots an hour for a period of over 24 hours. Her registered tonnage was 1,500, and the cabin accommodation and food were excellent." The Times, Saturday, Oct 10, 1931; pg. 8; Issue 45950; col B :Letter to the Editor: Mr. Stephen Scrope of 71, The Drive, Hove, Oct. 8
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Loch Vennachar expedition report (1977). Society for Underwater Historical Research. Kent Town, South Australia. ISBN 0959750010. OCLC: 27625714.
  7. "Sir, - With reference to the interesting letters which have appeared in your columns recently regarding the sailing ship Loch Vennachar and the master, that fine seaman Captain W. H. Bennett, no doubt your readers will be interested in the following extract from a letter which I have received to-day from his son, Mr. J. W. Bennett, who resides in London:- "My father was 85 years of age at his death, and left the Loch Vennachar in Melbourne in 1904,..." The Times, Tuesday, Oct 20, 1931; pg. 10; Issue 45958; col B: Letter to the Editor: G. B. Say, Chief Assistant Secretary. The Imperial Merchant Service Guild, Liverpool, Oct. 16.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ship Modelers Association (1997). The "Loch Vennachar". Retrieved online 22 March 2008.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The New York Times (1911). Wrecks that mark the seven seas from Glasgow to Australia. Retrieved online 23 March 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Lubbock, Basil (1948). The colonial clippers. Brown, Son & Ferguson, Glasgow. OCLC: 185535859.
  11. A report in The Times says the ship was anchored about 10 miles below Gravesend when at 4.15 a.m. on Tuesday, November 12, 1901 she "was struck by the Cato abaft the starboard bow, a large hole being made." The captain (Captain Bennett) ordered the boats out and all 30 crew were taken off safely; but a seaman who was in the forecastle at the time of collision and sustained severe head injuries was in a critical condition. The Times, Wednesday, Nov 13, 1901; pg. 6; Issue 36611; col D
  12. "She was sunk when at anchor off Thameshaven by the steamer Cato in November, 1901, and subsequently raised and repaired at a cost of £17,000." Mr Browning Dick of Lloyds, quoted in The Times, Wednesday, Oct 14, 1931; pg. 8; Issue 45953; col E
  13. The Ship Lists (2006).Glasgow Shipping Company. Retrieved online 21 March 2008.
  14. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2003). Shipwrecks Audio Transcript > Vennachar Point. Retrieved online 22 March 2008.
  15. Art Fact (2008). Lot 625: Derek George Montague Gardner. Retrieved online 21 March 2008.
  16. Australian Government (2006). EMA Disasters Database: Kangaroo Island. Retrieved online 21 March 2008.
  17. "Loch Vennachar was passed on 6th 35 21 south, 133 east; she signalled all well; several gales since from north, changing west south cyclonic." The Times, Thursday, Sep 28, 1905; pg. 4; Issue 37824; col F:SHIPPING DISASTERS : quoting a telegram "received through Lloyds".
  18. 18.0 18.1 Gleeson, Max (1987, p. 19). S.S. Yongala: dive to the past. Turton & Armstrong Publishers, Sydney. ISBN 0908031319. OCLC: 27579405
  19. "Messrs. Aitken, Lilburn, and Co., managers of the Loch Line, have received a telegram from their Adelaide agents confirming the discovery of wreckage, including paper and tinned fish with the same trade-marks as that shipped in the Loch Vennachar." The Times, Friday, Sep 29, 1905; pg. 4; Issue 37825; col F
  20. Kangaroo Island Wrecks (2008). Kangaroo Island Shipwrecks: Loch Vennacher. Retrieved online 21 March 2008.
  21. Encyclopedia of Australian Shipwrecks (2008). South Australian Shipwrecks: Loch Vennacher. Retrieved online 21 March 2008.
  22. Loch Vennachar Historic Reserve (2007). Aussie Heritage: Loch Vennachar Historic Reserve. Retrieved online 22 March 2008.
  23. SA Maritime Museum (2008). Wrecked! Tragedy and the Southern Seas. Retrieved online 23 March 2008.
  24. ABC Online (2008). Shipwrecks - Vennachar. Retrieved online 22 March 2008.